Plus - Appreciations

The gentleman from the Official Bar

K.C. Kamalasabayson, PC

Born on April 8, 1949 in Trincomalee, the late K.C Kamalasabayson PC (Kamal to many of us) would have been 60 years young on April 8, 2009, and would certainly have been at the top of the Private Bar as well.

That was not to be his Lord's plan for him, as he was suddenly snatched away from our midst on August 12, 2007, whilst in a hospital in India. He would have been one whom the Gods loved most.

My first impression of Kamal is of a lanky young man in full white, as we, law students, used to be attired those days, joining the Advocates' Preliminary Batch in 1969, commuting on his "mosquito". One of his favourite sayings then was "these things happen in the best of circles". Kamal was a brilliant student, a loyal friend, extremely pleasant company and gentleman par excellence, a trait for which he will always be remembered. That characteristic of Kamal is the one that readily comes to anyone's mind when thinking of him, even today.

Kamal and I have been closely associated on a number of matters. At the Law Students Union (LSU) elections for 1970, held in August 1969, I was elected uncontested as General Secretary and Kamal, also backed by our "Voet Inn", became an unofficial committee member.

At my request and to the satisfaction of all, he functioned as the de facto "Assistant General Secretary" that year. It, therefore, fell upon him to officiate at the longest known LSU meeting, lasting 8 hours and 20 minutes, chaired by R.K.W. Goonesekere himself, our much respected principal and vice patron, as I was to propose the draft of the new LSU Constitution which was to grant autonomy to the student body, while replacing the erstwhile "Rules of 1939". That Constitution was adopted without a division and operates until today.

In 1970, Kamal, representing the Tamil Mandram, was also in the Co-coordinating Committee of Law Students, which was a gathering made of representatives of all religious and ethnic groups at the Law College then, with the principal as the patron, to reach a consensus among all on the provisions of the new LSU Constitution. There were apprehensions that the national political climate of 1970 would be disadvantageous to the minorities. A present day politician, then a contemporary of ours, addressing the LSU in Sinhala for the first time further strengthened these fears.

Kamal and I were also in the first rugby team of the Law College, despite our doubtful skills in that game. We were naturally very kind to our opponents and never won a single match, despite the hard work put in by stars like Rohan Jayatileke, Stanley Obeysekere and Ana Jayasinghe. The warm hospitability of the planters' clubs -- which Ana managed to arrange -- was worth more than any trophy to us empty-pocketed students then.

Kamal and I were both selected as Acting State Counsel in early 1974. Kamal joined on the due date, while I asked for, and received a couple of postponements and, finally declined. Given my own financial and other circumstances, I could not afford such a luxury.

We also functioned simultaneously as lecturers and examiners at the Law College in the same subject, Criminal Law, he in the Tamil medium and I in Sinhala. He would always trust me to set the whole question paper, which we would then translate into the respective languages.

He continued in the Official Bar and by 1999 had reached the position of Solicitor General, while I remained in the Private Bar. We then came together, again later that year, at Ceremonial Sittings of the Supreme Court and of the Court of Appeal, he as the Attorney General and I as the President, BASL. This one day prompted him to whisper to me that I would have also been in his shoes, had I joined the department, an aspect that had never occurred to me. That was Kamal's good-heartedness and humility.

Holding the sensitive office of Attorney General, particularly for a person of his ethnicity, was no easy task, not due to anything wanting in him, but the very volatile situation in the country and the recent history of his department. He was conscious of the fact that there could be many an occasion when someone would have been ready to "put the stripes" on him (to use his own expression) if his advice or decisions were not to the liking of those who mattered. It is solely due to his honesty, forthrightness and ability that he was able to be in the "hot seat" unscarred until the end.

Circumstances did not permit me, lately, to meet him socially as often as I would have loved to. But there were ample occasions when I had the privilege of interviewing him on professional matters. He was fair, firm and courteous as always. No one ever left his chamber, feeling that he had not been treated fairly by "the AG'.

His charming ways saved his department from great embarrassments, not once, but at least thrice, to my personal knowledge. No one except him would have succeeded in such difficult and sensitive situations.

Towards the latter part of his tenure, he shared with me many a pressing concern but, being the gentleman he was, he entertained bitterness towards none, even in the face of all such concerns.

With Kamal's demise, the country lost one of its greatest sons, the Bar one of its ablest members, those who knew him, a reliable and sincere friend and one of the finest of gentlemen. The loss to his family must surely be irreplaceable and immense. A matter of consolation to the Bar also to his widow Ramani is that his only child Vidhya has chosen to follow in her father's footsteps. May Kamal's soul attain Moksha!

By Upali A. Gooneratne,(Past president of BASL)

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